08 October 2017

Finding creative conviction

I’ve been thinking about what got me into graphic design and illustration in the first place. Although I’ve always liked to draw and write, the friends that I had and their interests are what cemented my future endeavors.

It started with FASA’s Dr. Who RPG back in mid-1980s Jr. High. It was actually my first taste of role-playing, and we eventually worked up into AD&D 2nd edition. It inspired me- I couldn’t afford all these games. What if I made my own? My friends tried talking me out of it, but I wasn’t deterred. I started designing my first table top- a horrible space fleet tactical game that relied on rulers and hundreds of dice that kept hit point scores. I drew space ships on pieces of cardboard, and despite the lousy game play, I had fun spending hours designing it. It was my first real experience with creative flow.

By the time I hit 10th grade, I met my best friend, Bobby Hancock. He also had a space fleet game- arguably better than mine. We were also trying out roleplaying rules and my first RPG- “Starkillers” was borne. Yes, I had taken the name from Star Wars- but Lucas wasn’t doing much with any of that stuff in 1988- unless you count West End’s Star Wars RPG line (of which I own many books and started the entire Legends expanded universe… but I digress).

“Starkillers RPG” evolved into another game, which is shelved (and has been retitled, btw- for later public release). As I was building that game, I was teaching myself the fundamentals of graphic design and drawing to fill the universe. I had just graduated high school, and had zero prospects. To be honest, I didn’t know I was building the foundation of a future career.

Pushed into going to apply at Salt Lake Community College by my girlfriend (now wife) Charlotte, I was sitting in the Student Center flipping through the pages of the class catalog. Words jumped out at me as I skimmed and I saw the word “Cartooning” jump out at me. I flipped back and saw the Graphic Design degree. “What is this?” I wondered. Sheltered, pre-internet, I had never given any thought to it as a possible career. Suddenly, a light went off in my head- I could DESIGN my games and do it for a living!

My original intent faded as I was introduced to a whole new world of artistic opportunity. Fast forward a few years after school- it was very hard to break into the industry pre-internet. I had toyed around with going to Kubert Cartooning School- but I talked myself out of it. I wish I hadn’t… but in retrospect, I lacked conviction. That is a story for another time, though. I did have an experience at self-publishing a comic book, but that fell apart as my creative partner had too many personal problems. We went our separate ways, but it soured the taste of comic creation… well, I guess even to this day. Again, lack of conviction compounded by sour experiences- I just never followed that path to any satisfaction.

Post college, my first few jobs were horrible- a small print shop which lasted a month, and a family owned phone-book publishing company that was worse.  That one lasted a year and met one of my future best friends there. Those jobs paved the way for my decade-long stint in broadcast television… which led to my current job in multimedia in higher education.

And I’ve tried all sort of exploration into different types of artistic expression: animation, illustration, comic books, narrative writing, filmmaking… but never much into what I originally intended to do: game design. I had played around, and even attempted a card game a couple of years ago with a friend I had met at one of my jobs. It was a simple card game based on a rummy run, the first to create their 10 card run won.

Simple, right?

Well, we had different intents on that game- I wanted a simple quick competitive game and he and his family liked more strategic, cooperative games. While that endeavor fizzled out, it did give me some insight into how much gaming had evolved- I had been out of it for so long.

Back and forth again. Work, family, home, occasional creative experimentation… I even thought about developing my writing talents and becoming an author. Still on the list of possibilities, but being visual, and I do enjoy drawing… and the complex abstraction of figuring out game mechanics.

And so here we are- a meandering full circle. It’s been now nearly 30 years since I started designing games, and a 17 hear hiatus between letting it go and a failed start… now back to full on design again.

I’ve learned many lessons in my most recent attempt, and have played some other games with other friends. I have started a new pulp-adventure table top game that can be both cooperative and competitive, depending on your strategy. I have a playtest version ready to go- I’ve roughly illustrated a deck of cards to emulate the playing experience. It’s helping me brush up on my illustration and graphic design skills- because it needs to look as amazing as it is in my head. I've even went and opened a new Instagram account @lostskies7 to show how that's going.

It’s all coming together- all of my experiences. I always thought I had wandered off my path, but I was really adding to my repertoire of skills and building experiences. It’s a bit of uncharted territory for me, though… but exploring it is what is exciting.

14 August 2017

Just show up.

A few of the things I get asked often is "how did you get so good?" or "Can you teach me to draw like you?". My answer is usually the same- you just need to practice. Everyday. For years. There are no shortcuts in this.

I came across this video- and he had another great bit of advice...

I don't draw everyday, but now I will. I just need to show up.

13 August 2017

Popular Comics #1

inDELLible's first issue. Cover by Steven Butler.
Here's a panel from the story I illustrated: Captain Tornado!

The folks at inDELLible have published the first anthology TPB, calling it Popular Comics, Issue #1. I have a 5 page story inside written by Bill Cain called Captain Tornado. I only pencilled and inked the story, colors were by Jared Prophet and it was lettered by industry veteran Daerick Gross, Sr. Cover is by the legendary Steven Butler! It's available on Amazon.

Daerick also acted as the art director of the project. He has been great in giving advice and critique and I feel like my artwork has been evolving under his guidance.

I originally had a second story, but life intervened... however something will come of it! Stay tuned!

10 August 2017

Bought a brush pen... leaving comfort zone.

I hadn't posted for a while, so this update is more of an attempt to say "yep, I'm alive and busy behind the scenes!"

Here's a head study I executed with a brush pen... mostly to see what kind of tight control I could have with details. The image is about three inches tall, to give you some frame of reference. I've been drawing for years and have played with brushes off and on. This is the first one that turned out halfway decent enough to show off.  

I bought a small round Pigma brush pen from Hobby Lobby (not endorsing the store, but it's nice alternative to Michael's.
I've played around with a sable and Higgins ink before- but really only about 3-4 total work hours messing with a brush in all my time doing it. I'm not a fan of clean up so I've never really hassled with it. This one was after about a half hour of inking different heads.

I need to start posting current images!

26 July 2017

A funny thing happened while at the comic book store...

Example of Colin Wilson's excellent use
of lighting and solid draftsmanship.
There is a comic book shop about two miles from my work which I'll occasionally go do during lunch. I'd go more often but I'd become broke very quickly.

Because I don't go often, I'm not really keen on what's "hot" or up on any current story lines. I'm an artist, and buy only books based on if I like their art.

So I found a few, but one in particular- The Rocketeer Adventures 2 had a story in it where I loved the art. When I got it home I discovered it was by artist Colin Wilson, who've I'd admired for years and years! Of course I liked it! He's done everything from Blueberry, to Judge Dredd, to Rogue Trooper, to Star Wars Invasion (Incidentally, the last time I went I found Invasion and picked it up because I liked the art- and again discovered it was Colin).

One of the best things an artist should learn is to discover not only what catches their eye, but why. I like Colin's use of detail, the realism in his backgrounds, props and vehicles, and his characters... and the use of his camera shots.  The artwork feels alive.


Still getting back into it. I've been drawing when I can, way out of practice. I started going through all my old sketchbooks (I leave notes to myself when I've drawn something that I like since it's so hard to bottle lightning), and old illustrations. I came across this VERY out of character illustration I did as freelance for a women's health food product packaging:

The original illustration.
The front of the packaging, sans dog. He ran away.
It's fun to look back, but now I need to look forward!

A very talented filmmaker and good friend of mine, James Cawley, is going to do a fan film of "The Gunslinger"- from Stephen King's Dark Tower books. James called me out wanting some promotional and conceptual illustrations which I am extremely happy to oblige.

It's been a VERY long time since I've read the books, like 20 years... so I'll have quite a bit of research and rediscovery to do. To be honest, I needed a project to kickstart my brain- I tend to do better and MORE on other's projects- it's easier to answer to someone else then to answer to yourself.

Quality is never out of style

Another "republished" page. Admittedly, I went through kicks between being wanting to be a sequential artist or being a filmmaker, and because of that conflict, I would un-publish posts about what ever I wasn't into, trying to tailor my blog into what I wanted to reflect. In the end, sequential artist always seemed to win. Here's an older post that I had done talking about older newspaper strips. I was reading an article where Ham Fisher had so many assistants that he hardly drew much of his strip- which would account for the lack of consistency in his character designs.

These older strips were found through public domain, and had given me a real focus on how I want to approach my webcomic. -jfm

I've been trying to find other influences outside my traditional comfort zone. So, as you know I've discovered the Cisco Kid, but lately I've found some others whose artwork I really like:

Ham Fisher did a strip called "Joe Palooka" for 25 years. While there's not really any consistency in character design- I LOVE how many of the 'extras' are drawn in a semi-realistic/caricatured way- like the announcers in the second and third frame in this strip:

The brushwork is amazing!

Another old-timey newspaper comic was "Flyin' Jenny", done by Russell Keaton:

The paper-dolls are a bit much now-a-days, but I'm sure it was a great marketing gimmick!

I like the stylization of the character design, but I also like the attention to clean detail on the airplanes themselves. It's obvious that the best talent went to the newspaper strips back then.

It's gotten me thinking on my current influences as probably being influenced themselves by older sources. Quality draftsmanship never goes out of style... or rather, it shouldn't!

22 July 2017

I bit the bullet.

Originally posted a few years ago- but blogger seems to make these jump back to the top after you've unpublished and republished again.

I'll be the first to say I never finished my end of the bargain on these correspondence courses. This one came right before my dad passed away, and while I've gone over and used the materials the boxed set came with, I never had the nerve to do the work and send it in for critique. 

If I do another course, it will be for story graphics or inking. I'm not severely interested in being a comic book artist as much as the now extinct Adventure Comic Strip artist (like Milton Caniff)- which was my first exposure to it all and what I really wanted to do. I may resurrect the webcomic attempt yet.

With that, here's the original article below, from sometime in late 2012:

After many, many years of regretting not going to the Joe Kubert School, and pining over the Correspondence Courses, I bit the bullet and ordered the "Heroes and Superheroes" course!

When I say many, many years, it goes back to 1988. I was rummaging through the quarter-bin comics at the now extinct "Comics Utah" and found something that caught my eye. It was the 1st (and to my knowledge only?) issue of "Joe Kubert School Presents 1st Folio." It caught my eye... what was this school? Subsequently, I saw ads for JKS throughout many of my comics, and had always wanted to go. I even went so far as to mail them for information, but fear held me back. Yep, I said it, fear. I won't blame life circumstances, or marriage, or kids, or money... it was fear. I was afraid of traveling cross country, if it was something I could make a living at with an impending family.  I feel I could have, had I had faith in my ability and just worked hard at it... but I didn't know that then, I was just running on emotion and shrank back. Of course, the lack of a support system probably set me back, but that's another story.

So, yes, I do regret not 'going for it'. But really, that's neither here nor there. I love my life and kids now, but I really wish I would have had the courage to go for it back then.

Financial reality really does prohibit me from going now. But it doesn't prevent me from doing the next best thing- ordering the course and doing the best I can on it and get some insight from instruction off of my attempts and not just some examples out of a book.

One thing I do have now that I didn't when I was younger is life experience... and all the knowledge I've accumulated from filmmaking and learning about animation. Acting, composition, storytelling, pacing... But I am very mindful that while I do have a more solid understanding of all of this, I am still a student, and I am still wanting to learn from instructors- and I want to avoid the impulse of trying to impress them. The trick is to be humble- that allows you to learn more.

So, all that said, I am really excited to get the first course that should be arriving next Tuesday! I will post pictures of unwrapping it!!!

15 April 2017

On writing, drawing, and filming.

Gearing up, literally.
Right now, I have three short form films in development: two narratives and a minidoc.

The two short films will only be about 2-3 minutes long. The first one is called TOE TAG, a thriller with a twist starring Joey Sanchez and Geoff Richards. We’ve done location scouting and the script is in place. I’m in the process of looking into permits. Since there are some action shots, I've ordered the Fotodiox Freeflight 3-axis gimbal stabilizer. I'm excited to get that.

The second film’s working title is The Letter. It’s a road trip drama featuring Joey Sanchez and Jenny Aguilar. This one is in development. The gimbal stabilizer will also be useful here since there’s a number of traveling shots.

My mini-documentary will be about my neighbor, Craig Collings, who is the hard-working owner of Collings Awning. I’m looking forward to this because I find what he does fascinating, and the fact he and his wife Kathy have been able to sustain their own business for nearly 30 years is inspiring.

The workload at my day job has increased significantly, but I am settling into doing more video work instead of illustration and animation. While I have the skill to do many of these things, being a jack-of-all-trades has a tendency to pull you into too many directions at once. It’s extremely difficult to switch gears. Our team has been growing and many of those responsibilities will fall onto others. I’m happy that I’ll be able to focus on one job, and to do it well.

Compelling Stories
I have a slew of short films I'd like to make, but I haven't really written anything in a while except for The Letter. I was working on a feature length drama, but the story was beginning to meander because I haven't solidified many of the character's weaknesses. Drama is about confronting weakness and finding strength- at least it has been in my stories. I'm trying very hard to avoid cliches... and that's what's slowing me down.

My Illustration Dilemma
The hard truth is that Illustration, as a vocation, is all-consuming. All of the greats spend long, long hours at a desk focused on the work. You need to be dedicated and obsessed with it. \It was my first love—it's difficult since I also love filmmaking.

That said, I like to illustrate my own stories. I have many waiting on the shelf. I’ll go back and play with them when I’m ready. But, after some recent attempts, I know now for a fact that working in the comics realm collaboratively is a very separate path than filmmaking.  I have a choice to make.

07 April 2017

Leaving The Nest

Test Shots and Location Scouting
A few days ago, I went to old Midvale with my friend Joey Sanchez to do some location scouting and video tests my next film TOE TAG. The Vincent’s Pharmacy, featured in these shots, was in The Sandlot.

Joey Sanchez sneaking around back alleys in old Midvale.

Yesterday, my friend Geoff Richards and I used our lunch to get some more test shots in and around the business complex we work at. This test was primarily more for me to get used to the Chung Dha-style monopod rig (which I’ll get to further down).

Geoff Richards lurking around in underground tunnels and parking garages in Salt Lake City.

These shots aren’t bad considering I shot them on an iPhone 6. I’ll likely be using this old phone for TOE TAG and possibly the 48 Hour Film Project unless I can manage an upgrade to the 7 before then… though unlikely.

Chung Dha-style Monopod Rig
I don’t have much money to spend on equipment, so I often try to figure out the best way to get the most out of what I have by using technique to steady and light my shots. I’ve adopted a modified Cinema Verite method- using available lighting and augmenting it with inexpensive portable lights. I also try to figure out the best way to grip my camera with what I already own using very unconventional means.

I like DIY, but there are too many things- like making stuff out of pvc pipe, is just a waste of time and looks ghetto trashy. I mean, come on, use your time to plan movies, not making shitty gear.

I had come up with this method on my own, but it turns out I wasn’t the first to think of using a monopod this way. In 2010, Chung Dha came up with a fantastic method and setup using a collapsed monopod with a ballhead camera mount as a shoulder rig.

Chung Dha’s 2010 demo of his monopod shoulder rig.

Using a speedlight extension bar to extend handling is clever, though I am using an ALM mCAMLITE iPhone case, which has a similar set up on the bottom. I also use the small handle from my Zoom H4N kit for additional handling.

Photos coming soon!
My ALM mCAMLITE Quick Rig: transforms from a shoulder-rig to a monopod set up in 5 seconds.

I already owned the monopod, but I decided to take some birthday money to buy a better support for the heavy mCAMLITE case, for which I bought a fluid-filled tripod head from Anovor, using a Desmond 1/4” to 3/8” adapter.
It works pretty good, though it will take practice to get more fluid shots.

To be honest, I like the challenge of using an iPhone. It limits me in many ways, forcing me to become creative with my shots.

22 March 2017

Use what you've got. Just make films.

I use multiple higher end cameras like the Canon 7d, 7dmkii, 5dmkiii, C100, etc, but they all belong to my day job. I hadn’t bought anything for myself in about 10 years.

I want to start up a series of shorts again, and since I’m unable to use my work’s equipment, and I was taken by this particular video:

The $400 Camera Rig

I still think the rig is genius, but finding reliable Canon EOS M cameras is becoming harder and harder. I had ordered one, and found that it didn’t record any images, which pretty much made the camera useless. I immediately returned it.

I was fed up. I decided I didn’t want to mess around with consumer cameras until I could afford what I really want- which will be some time off.

Sitting frustrated, I remembered I was talking to a photographer friend of mine who said she was embarrassed that she now takes photos on her iPhone. I told her “Who cares about the gear?” and referred her to this fantastic video by Ted Forbes:

Art of Photography: Why Gear Doesn’t Matter

Which got me thinking- I was so gung-ho about using my iPhone, why can’t I just use it? It will be better than any Super 8, and frankly arguably better than super 16. Well… I did say arguably.

So… I said “F*ck it, I’m going to use my refunded money to get a Beastgrip Pro and use that set up.” I will work up to using a depth of field adapter- I’m no stranger to those. I am not going to have a lack of a camera stop me from making some serious shorts, and it’s been demonstrated that iPhone Cinematography can indeed be very powerful. I just need to use what I've got.

What I have NOW is pretty damn good.

Beastgrip Demo

19 February 2017

Project: Waking Dragon

Filmic Pro low-light tests from Juan Maestas on Vimeo.

I wanted to give this renewed effort a memorable name, so I came up with Project: Waking Dragon. Yes, I know it's cheesy, but I wanted to put some sort of energy, some sort of familiar to it. I've always thought of my familiar as a dragon; I feel my imagination is as powerful as one. And I feel that it has been asleep for a long time, and now it's waking up.

With that, I added this first video sketch- one of many- with clips I already had to get the ball rolling. There's nothing spectacular about the editing or the choice of shots. I had to throw something against the blank canvas to get started.

I have more video sketch ideas coming which I'll get more interesting shots and more creative editing. I also have about 6 mini-docs that I'd like to do profiling interesting people I know. All these projects are designed to get more familiar with equipment, getting out and producing stuff, and basically getting the dragon some momentum. This will lead to doing some short narratives and hopefully lead to a feature within two years.

That's the goal. Here we go.

18 February 2017

Rebel Without a RED

I had worked on a film that used RED cameras- and I can honestly say the equipment is only as good as its operators. Using a RED has always been the holy grail of many indie filmmakers that choose not to dive into film. Those that do often go the Super 16mm route- like Robert Rodriguez. In his book "Rebel Without A Crew", RRod claims he shot El Mariachi for only $7,000, and most of that was for the film stock. He begged, borrowed, and stole everything else to get the film made.

Before DSLRs, using a depth-of-field adapter was the only way to get a filmic look on to digital video. I attempted a DIY version on my little HV20… with mixed results.

Speaking of HV20s- amazing short films have been shot on them- take Ayz Wariach’s WHITE RED PANIC for example- it’s not about the equipment, it’s how you LEVERAGE IT:

WHITE RED PANIC  by Ayz Wariach, 2008

Still, shooting a feature on an HV20 is still going to be massively time and resource intensive. Not to mention it’s getting harder and harder to find mini-dv tapes, which tend to go bad any way. I knew I had to go digital- of course I came to this realization 8 years ago, but bear with me.

I have been balancing budgets and I’m all about resourcefulness. When I saw a little Sundance feature by the name of Tangerine that was shot on iPhone 5s, I knew I could accomplish what I had set out all those years ago- shooting a distributable film with equipment I already had already IN MY POCKET. Robert Rodriguez said in an interview if he had a smartphone, he could have shot El Mariachi for $10.

Tangerine isn’t the first feature film to be shot on an iPhone, but it certainly is the most regarded. There are many, many shorts and a few features that have been shot, amazing cinematography- things I could only dream of back in 2005, much less 2010...11…12. I mean, take a look at this footage from NYLAC.TV- shot on an iPhone 7 Plus! The video itself is gorgeous- shot on a phone for crying out loud- but it took an artist to craft those kinds of shots:

You still need a DOF adapter if you want shallow depth-of-field shots. You’ll need other lenses for long or wide shots. And they’re out there. I’m currently looking at Beastgrip, among other options.

While the equipment is that last 10% polish that can really make a film look crisp and professional, most filmmakers fall short on the other 90%: creativity, vision, and storytelling.

It isn't always about the tools, but the artist who handles them.

17 February 2017

What lights my fire

Lost Skies Demo Reel from Juan Maestas on Vimeo.

As I look over all the endeavors of my creative life, I have often stopped to wonder what it is I am truly meant to do. I don't deny that I am gifted in drawing- but I haven't pursued it because while I do enjoy it to relax, it's only on occasion... and I never get into a state of "flow" when I do it. I'm not passionate about it.

Filmmaking, on the other hand, is something that I do enjoy. I love all aspects of it- from conjuring up a script to directing actors to finishing off the edit. I love it all. It is the art of the times.

I am truly lucky to have a day job where I am able to both draw and do video production. However, if I had to choose, I would definitely pick video... it simply interests me more.

With that, I am rebooting Lost Skies Productions for it's original function, as a virtual base for my filmmaking endeavors. I have a couple of small scripts I'm looking over and I'm planning on perhaps getting something going.

This is what I want to do.

This is what lights my fire.

23 January 2017

The Ever Evolving Line!

Unfinished pen sketch!
Yeesh! I need to post to this more often!!

I’ve found an artist whose work I absolutely love; it’s really influencing the way my drawing has evolved. The line is looser, and with cinematic colors, I feel like the new direction I’m going in is the one that best suits my art personality.

Things have been going rather well. Lots of things in the works- inDELLible is going great- I’m half way through my second story. I have a few comic gigs lined up in the future months. I am finally getting around the big webcomic project- scripts are written and I’ve been working on concept art. I’ll definitely be using the new style I’m developing, and it will be in full color.

More soon!